This photo taken on February 13, 2017 shows a woman looking for chocolates at a floor prepared specially for Valentine’s Day gifts at a department store in Tokyo. Japanese women have been crowding department stores to scoop up chocolates for their male coworkers in a ritual of obligation that yields an annual windfall for confectionary makers. / AFP PHOTO / TORU YAMANAKA
A billion-dollar Valentine’s Day bounty is on the cards for Japan’s retailers as women celebrate the festival of romance by stocking up on ‘obligation chocolates’ for men.
February 14 is a huge money-spinner for the country’s confectioners, with women traditionally expected to fork out for chocolates and gift them to boyfriends, husbands, colleagues and bosses.
This year’s Valentine’s Day haul is estimated at 138.5 billion yen ($1.22 billion), up three percent from 2016, according to Kinenbi Culture Laboratory, an organisation that researches Japanese holidays and other annual events.
Part of the growth, according to the organisation, is due to Valentine’s Day falling on a weekday for the first time in three years, meaning more women will buy “giri choco” — or obligation chocolates — for the men they work with or for.
On Monday, 27-year-old Maika Suzuki visited a floor dedicated to Valentine’s Day at the Mitsukoshi department store in Tokyo’s Nihonbashi area to buy more than 30 boxes of chocolates for her male co-workers.
Such chocolates “are for expressing gratitude to men,” she explained as she surveyed products on offer from 110 manufacturers.
“Japanese men are happy to get chocolates” as there is a culture in Japan that women give them to men, she said.
“We can also boost their pride” by giving them chocolates on Valentine’s Day, she added.
Although Japan is one of the world’s most efficient and high-tech societies, marketeers have exploited the country’s rigid gender roles and social pressures to conform.
Valentine’s Day first appeared in Japan in the late 1950s when a firm called Mary Chocolate advertised February 14 as “the only day of the year a woman professes her love through presenting chocolate” — establishing it as Japan’s currency of romance.
But confectionery maker Ezaki Glico said in its 2016 report that only 8.7 percent of 312 female respondents gave chocolates to the men they love.
In a sign of equality, however, the country next month celebrates White Day, a Japanese event confectioners cooked up in the 1980s to keep the cash tills ringing that sees men buy a white gift such as vanilla cookies, marshmallows and handkerchiefs for the women in their lives.
Marie Kondo, 24, bought nearly 30 boxes of chocolates for the men in her office, forking out a total of 10,000 yen.
“But I’m going to spend more for myself,” she said, adding that she plans to buy chocolates from Sadaharu Aoki, a high-end Japanese chocolatier.
“To me, Valentine’s Day is not a day to confess love.”